White Christmas


2h 1954

Brief Synopsis

Two musical stars team with a sister act to help their old Army commander save his failing country inn.

Film Details

Also Known As
Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Genre
Comedy
Romance
Musical
Holiday
Release Date
Nov 1954
Premiere Information
New York opening: 14 Oct 1954; Los Angeles opening: 27 Oct 1954
Production Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
2h
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1, 1.96 : 1, 1.96 : 1, 2.00 : 1
Film Length
13 reels

Synopsis

On Christmas Eve, 1944, somewhere in war-torn Europe, soldiers of the U.S. Army's 151st Division enjoy a show put on by song-and-dance men Capt. Bob Wallace and Pvt. Phil Davis, in honor of their beloved departing general, Tom Waverly. When the camp suddenly is bombed, Phil saves Bob's life by pulling him out of the path of a collapsing brick wall. Later, Bob visits the injured Phil in the infirmary and declares that he "owes" Phil. Phil immediately pulls out a song he has written and suggests that Bob, a well-known soloist, repay him by performing it with him. Bob agrees, and the two become a popular duo following the war. One December night, in Florida, where they are performing their revue, Playing Around , Phil tries to fix bachelor Bob up with a chorus girl, but Bob angrily resists. The carefree Phil complains that because Bob has no love life, he spends all of his time working, and consequently, makes Phil work too hard as well. After Bob admits that he wants to find a "good" woman, the two head for a nightclub, where Betty and Judy Haynes, the sisters of a former Army buddy, are performing. Bob is instantly taken with Betty, while Phil is attracted to Judy. When Betty admits to Bob that the letter from their brother inviting them to their show was actually written by Judy, Bob laughingly accuses Judy of "having an angle." Betty, the older and more serious sister, takes umbrage at Bob's comment, and she and Bob quietly argue. Judy and Phil, however, hit it off and are delighted by Bob and Betty's apparent pairing. Just then, Novello, the club's owner, informs Judy that the sheriff is in his office, waiting to arrest her and Betty for non-payment of a $200 fee their landlord is demanding. After Judy, who along with Betty has an upcoming holiday job in Vermont, confesses to Phil that they are broke, Phil gives them the train tickets he and Bob were to use that night. While Novello stalls the sheriff, Betty and Judy sneak out of the club and flee in a cab. To assure the women reach the station, Phil and Bob go on stage in their place, sporting fans and garters and mouthing the words to a recording of one of the sisters' numbers. Afterward, Bob and Phil dash to catch the New York-bound train, and Bob is annoyed when Phil claims to have lost their drawing room tickets. Bob eventually deduces what happened to the tickets, but before he can confront the sisters, they burst into the club car to thank him for his generosity. Thus cornered, Bob says nothing about the tickets, and before long, Phil and Judy convince Bob to spend a few days in "snowy" Vermont. When they arrive there, however, they are shocked to find green grass and warm temperatures. At Columbia Inn, where they are to perform, Betty and Judy learn that because of the unseasonable weather, the inn has few guests and cannot afford their services. Just as Betty, Judy, Bob and Phil are about to leave, Gen. Waverly walks in with his granddaughter Susan. The general reveals that, after retiring from the Army, he sank all of his savings into the now failing inn. The general insists on honoring the sisters' contract, and that night, while the girls are singing, Bob and Phil concoct a plan to save the inn. Bob arranges for the entire cast and crew of Playing Around to come up from New York, explaining to the general that the inn is the perfect place to fine-tune the show before its Broadway opening. Later, after Phil and Judy connive to get Bob and Betty alone together, Betty admits to Bob she misjudged him and praises his selflessness. Although rehearsals at the inn go well, the general is crushed when he receives a letter from an Army friend, informing him that his request for reinstatement has been denied. Hoping to improve the general's spirits, Bob decides to go on the Ed Harrison television show and invite the veterans of the 151st Division to a Christmas Eve show at the inn. While he is talking on the phone with Ed, Emma Allen, the inn's nosy housekeeper, eavesdrops, but only hears Ed trying to convince Bob to exploit the event for publicity. Emma then tells Betty what she heard, and Betty, believing that Bob intends to take advantage of the general's plight, grows suddenly cold toward him. Judy concludes that Betty is having second thoughts about Bob because she is worried about abandoning her little sister, and convinces the marriage-shy Phil to become engaged to her until Bob and Betty are safely reunited. At a cast party, Judy and Phil announce their engagement, and are confused when Betty continues to snub Bob. Later that night, Judy assures Betty that the break-up of their act was inevitable, and the next day, Betty leaves for a solo job in New York and writes Judy a goodbye letter. After reading the letter, Judy and Phil confess to Bob about their phony engagement, and Bob, upset, decides to drop by Betty's club before his appearance on the Ed Harrison show. Despite his kind words, Betty treats Bob hostily. Bob then makes his live televised plea, and while Phil, Emma, Judy and Susan go to great lengths to prevent the general from watching the show, Betty tunes in and realizes her mistake. On Christmas Eve, hundreds of veterans and their families swarm to the inn to surprise the general, and Betty returns in time to appear in the revue. The general is deeply moved by the presence of so many of his men, and Betty is relieved to be reunited with Bob. Then, as snow begins to fall, Betty and Bob, and Phil and Judy kiss, happy in the knowledge that they will soon be married.

Film Details

Also Known As
Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Genre
Comedy
Romance
Musical
Holiday
Release Date
Nov 1954
Premiere Information
New York opening: 14 Oct 1954; Los Angeles opening: 27 Oct 1954
Production Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
2h
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1, 1.96 : 1, 1.96 : 1, 2.00 : 1
Film Length
13 reels

Award Nominations

Best Song

1954

Articles

White Christmas


For a film that's remembered mostly as a warm, nostalgic holiday movie rather than as one of the all-time great musicals, White Christmas (1954) certainly commands a lot of star power and pop-cultural significance. Consider: it was the highest-grossing film of 1954 ($12 million); it was the biggest hit of director Michael Curtiz's career; co-stars Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye were ranked at the time as the #1 and #3 box office stars in the country; and "White Christmas" was already the most successful song in American history - a record it maintained for many decades more.

Who doesn't know and love that song? Irving Berlin wrote it in 1940. Bing Crosby first performed it on December 25, 1941, on his CBS radio show. In May 1942 he recorded it, and in August of that year, he could be seen singing it on screen in the hit movie Holiday Inn. Soon it was at the top of the charts, where it remained for eleven weeks, and in early 1943 it won the Oscar® for Best Song. It hit #1 again in 1945 and 1947 and went on to hold the record as all-time bestselling single for over 50 years. (The song that finally knocked it down to #2? Elton John's 1997 recording of "Candle in the Wind," with lyrics rewritten to honor the late Princess Diana.)

With the continuing popularity of the song (and Bing Crosby) through the 1940s, it was a no-brainer for Hollywood to want to capitalize on it yet again. As early as 1949, the movie White Christmas was in preparation at Paramount. The idea was to show off old and new Irving Berlin tunes and reunite the stars of Holiday Inn, Crosby and Fred Astaire. Irving Berlin recycled parts of the earlier film and mixed it with elements of an unproduced musical he had written with Norman Krasna called Stars on My Shoulders; Krasna went on, with Melvin Frank, to turn the new story into a screenplay.

Fred Astaire, however, wasn't crazy about the script and pulled out. Paramount replaced him with Donald O'Connor, but he, too, had to pull out when he fell ill close to the start of production. According to author David Leopold (Irving Berlin's Show Business), Kaye asked for a huge paycheck - $200,000 plus ten percent of the gross - never expecting that it would be accepted. But Paramount realized that waiting for O'Connor would cost them about that much, and they bit the bullet.

As production began, Berlin wrote in a letter to his friend Irving Hoffman, "It is the first movie that I've been connected with since Holiday Inn that has the feel of a Broadway musical. Usually there's little enthusiasm once you get over the first week of a picture. But the change in this setup has resulted in an excitement that I am sure will be reflected in the finished job. In any event, as of today I feel great and very much like an opening in Philadelphia with a show."

The thin but serviceable plot finds Crosby and Kaye as a top song-and-dance act who take a vacation in Vermont with a pair of sister entertainers, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney. They arrive at a country inn run by the boys' former WWII commanding officer, Dean Jagger. He's about to go out of business due to a lack of snow so the foursome decides to put on a show to save the inn. Guess what happens? It's all an excuse for some fine Irving Berlin songs including "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing," "Sisters," "Snow," "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me," the Oscar®-nominated "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" and of course "White Christmas."

Paramount chose White Christmas to be its first movie produced in VistaVision, the studio's widescreen answer to CinemaScope. The New York Time noted the technical achievement in its review: "The colors on the big screen are rich and luminous, the images are clear and sharp, and rapid movements are got without blurring - or very little."

White Christmas was Michael Curtiz's first directing gig at Paramount after he left Warner Brothers. His Paramount contract allowed him the freedom to direct movies for other studios as well, and he thus floated around town from then on.

Producer: Robert Emmett Dolan
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, Melvin Frank
Cinematography: Loyal Griggs
Film Editing: Frank Bracht
Art Direction: Roland Anderson, Hal Pereira
Music: Gus Levene, Joseph J. Lilley, Bernard Mayers, Van Cleave
Cast: Bing Crosby (Bob Wallace) Danny Kaye (Phil Davis), Rosemary Clooney (Betty Haynes), Vera-Ellen (Judy Haynes), Dean Jagger (Major General Waverly), Mary Wickes (Emma Allen).
C-120m.

by Jeremy Arnold
White Christmas

White Christmas

For a film that's remembered mostly as a warm, nostalgic holiday movie rather than as one of the all-time great musicals, White Christmas (1954) certainly commands a lot of star power and pop-cultural significance. Consider: it was the highest-grossing film of 1954 ($12 million); it was the biggest hit of director Michael Curtiz's career; co-stars Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye were ranked at the time as the #1 and #3 box office stars in the country; and "White Christmas" was already the most successful song in American history - a record it maintained for many decades more. Who doesn't know and love that song? Irving Berlin wrote it in 1940. Bing Crosby first performed it on December 25, 1941, on his CBS radio show. In May 1942 he recorded it, and in August of that year, he could be seen singing it on screen in the hit movie Holiday Inn. Soon it was at the top of the charts, where it remained for eleven weeks, and in early 1943 it won the Oscar® for Best Song. It hit #1 again in 1945 and 1947 and went on to hold the record as all-time bestselling single for over 50 years. (The song that finally knocked it down to #2? Elton John's 1997 recording of "Candle in the Wind," with lyrics rewritten to honor the late Princess Diana.) With the continuing popularity of the song (and Bing Crosby) through the 1940s, it was a no-brainer for Hollywood to want to capitalize on it yet again. As early as 1949, the movie White Christmas was in preparation at Paramount. The idea was to show off old and new Irving Berlin tunes and reunite the stars of Holiday Inn, Crosby and Fred Astaire. Irving Berlin recycled parts of the earlier film and mixed it with elements of an unproduced musical he had written with Norman Krasna called Stars on My Shoulders; Krasna went on, with Melvin Frank, to turn the new story into a screenplay. Fred Astaire, however, wasn't crazy about the script and pulled out. Paramount replaced him with Donald O'Connor, but he, too, had to pull out when he fell ill close to the start of production. According to author David Leopold (Irving Berlin's Show Business), Kaye asked for a huge paycheck - $200,000 plus ten percent of the gross - never expecting that it would be accepted. But Paramount realized that waiting for O'Connor would cost them about that much, and they bit the bullet. As production began, Berlin wrote in a letter to his friend Irving Hoffman, "It is the first movie that I've been connected with since Holiday Inn that has the feel of a Broadway musical. Usually there's little enthusiasm once you get over the first week of a picture. But the change in this setup has resulted in an excitement that I am sure will be reflected in the finished job. In any event, as of today I feel great and very much like an opening in Philadelphia with a show." The thin but serviceable plot finds Crosby and Kaye as a top song-and-dance act who take a vacation in Vermont with a pair of sister entertainers, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney. They arrive at a country inn run by the boys' former WWII commanding officer, Dean Jagger. He's about to go out of business due to a lack of snow so the foursome decides to put on a show to save the inn. Guess what happens? It's all an excuse for some fine Irving Berlin songs including "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing," "Sisters," "Snow," "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me," the Oscar®-nominated "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" and of course "White Christmas." Paramount chose White Christmas to be its first movie produced in VistaVision, the studio's widescreen answer to CinemaScope. The New York Time noted the technical achievement in its review: "The colors on the big screen are rich and luminous, the images are clear and sharp, and rapid movements are got without blurring - or very little." White Christmas was Michael Curtiz's first directing gig at Paramount after he left Warner Brothers. His Paramount contract allowed him the freedom to direct movies for other studios as well, and he thus floated around town from then on. Producer: Robert Emmett Dolan Director: Michael Curtiz Screenplay: Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, Melvin Frank Cinematography: Loyal Griggs Film Editing: Frank Bracht Art Direction: Roland Anderson, Hal Pereira Music: Gus Levene, Joseph J. Lilley, Bernard Mayers, Van Cleave Cast: Bing Crosby (Bob Wallace) Danny Kaye (Phil Davis), Rosemary Clooney (Betty Haynes), Vera-Ellen (Judy Haynes), Dean Jagger (Major General Waverly), Mary Wickes (Emma Allen). C-120m. by Jeremy Arnold

Quotes

When what's left of you gets around to what's left to be gotten, what's left to be gotten won't be worth getting, whatever it is you've got left.
- Phil Davis
Well how do you like that? Not so much as a "kiss my foot" or "have an apple"!
- Doris
How do you do?
- Bob Wallace
Mutual, I'm sure.
- Doris
I want you to get married. I want you to have nine children. And if you only spend five minutes a day with each kid, that's forty-five minutes, and I'd at least have time to go out and get a massage or something.
- Phil Davis
That's very funny. Ho, ho, ho. The crooner is becoming the comic.
- Phil Davis

Trivia

Danny Kaye was a last-minute replacement for the originally-cast Donald O'Connor.

The first film produced in Paramount's wide screen process "VistaVision".

The TV camera in the Ed Harrison Show scene is a real one (a classic RCA monochrome; the cameraman is hiding the telltale logo with his hand), but the call sign atop it was real as well - it was that of Channel 4, NBC's (and thus RCA's) flagship station in New York, which changed its call sign to WRCA-TV the year of the film's release. (They adopted their current WNBC-TV calls in 1960.)

The original idea was to reunite Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, as they had been successful in Holiday Inn (1942). Astaire refused, as he had "retired" at the time, so the part was reworked for Donald O'Connor. O'Connor pulled out, and the part was reworked for Danny Kaye.

The photo that Vera-Ellen shows to Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye of her brother, Bennie, is actually a photo of Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer.

Notes

The film's onscreen title cards read: "Paramount proudly presents the first picture in VistaVision...Irving Berlin's White Christmas." White Christmas was advertised as a follow-up to Paramount's 1942 release Holiday Inn, which starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and featured thirteen songs by Berlin, including "White Christmas" (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). The plots of the two pictures bear little resemblance to each other, however. "White Christmas," which Crosby first performed on December 25, 1941 and recorded on May 29, 1942, became an enormous hit and acquired special significance during World War II as a song of hope and yearning. It won the 1942 Academy Award for Best Song and for over fifty years was the best-selling single in recording history. In White Christmas, Crosby sings the song during the opening war sequence. In addition to the songs listed above, snippets of Berlin's songs "Heat Wave" and "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" are heard.
       According to a January 2, 1953 Daily Variety news item, Astaire originally was to star in White Christmas with Crosby, but bowed out and obtained a release from his Paramount contract. Crosby bowed out at the same time, citing the recent death of his wife Dixie Lee and his desire to spend time with his son Lindsay as reasons for his departure. In late January 1953, however, Crosby returned to the picture, and Donald O'Connor was announced as Astaire's replacement. Shortly before production was to begin, O'Connor became ill and was replaced by Danny Kaye. According to a January 23, 1953 Daily Variety item, by the terms of their contracts, Crosby and Berlin shared the film's profits equally with Paramount. Hollywood Reporter news items and production charts add the following actors to the cast: Millard Mitchell, Pat Denise, Leighton Noble, Nick Stewart, William Meader, Charles Morton and Jim Elsgood. The appearance of these actors in the final film has not been confirmed.
       VistaVison was Paramount's widescreen process and, according to an October 1953 New York Times article, used single-strip Eastman color film and a new camera with a double, or 70mm, frame. The camera exposed the negative horizontally rather than vertically "from magazines specially mounted on the side of the lens." The image was then optically printed into a positive 35mm frame and projected in the usual, "vertical feed" fashion. As noted in the Daily Variety review, VistaVision boasted a "consistent picture quality in the various wide-screen projection ratios...from the standard 1.33 up to 2 to 1. The quality carries over into 2.55-1 when the VV negative is printed anamorphically for that aspect ratio."
       The Los Angeles premiere of the film was a benefit for the Southern California Society of Mental Hygiene. Berlin's song "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" was nominated for an Academy Award. The film was re-released in the fall of 1961. A stage version of the picture, featuring all of the songs from the film plus a few other Berlin tunes, opened at the St. Louis Municipal Opera on July 17, 2000.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall October 14, 1954

Re-released in United States on Video November 23, 1994

Released in USA on video.

VistaVision

Released in United States Fall October 14, 1954

Re-released in United States on Video November 23, 1994